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Monday, September 22, 2008

Major Indian megalithic monument destroyed


From
Stone Pages - Archaeonews: Megalithic site in India being destroyed.

Real state developers have all but destroyed an important Iron Age megalithic monument at the village of Vellarpatti, near Madurai (Tamil Nadu). The monument, including cairn circles (stone rings?), menhirs (standing stones) and burial slabs, is dated to 1000-500 BCE and is one of the most important ones in that part of India.

Nevertheless the archaeological and cultural authorities have failed to protect the site and developers have removed most of it to build a road, a modern temple, an industrial area as well as delimiting parcels for further developement.

The site is, at a later date, also associated to the Pandya king Nedunchezhiyan.

19 comments:

Manjunat said...


The site is associated to the Pandya king known as Nedunchezhiyan.


Does that make any sense? Are we reading the same article?

Maju said...

The article reads in the last paragraph: Two Mankulam inscriptions referred to Vellarai and mentioned a Pandya king called Nedunchezhiyan. The inscriptions referred to the existence of a trade centre at Vellarai, Dr. Rajan said.

Vellarai seems to be (from context and similitude of names) the same as the modern village of Vellaripatti, where the monument is/was located.

Now, I can't say how correct is Rajan. You tell me, if you know something else.

Manjunat said...

There is nothing wrong with Rajan's statements, eventhough, dating coming from Tamil Nadu has not always been credible. What surprised me was your interpretation or the way you have overlapped Neduchezhiyan's period with the timeline of Megalithic site. By my reading the article also explores the continuation of Megalithic site based on inscriptional evidences.

Maju said...

Yes, you seem to be right. I really don't know when and if the line can be drawn between Iron Age and Pandyas. In fact I could not find any reference to this particular king in Wikipedia but guess that Pandyas in general are already post-Megalithic.

Nevertheless, I imagine that if there is site continuity and only a few centuries of separation, it's not hard to imagine that Megalithic culture and Dravidian early historical realms can be also a continuity. What do you think of this? Is Vellarai an exception or rather an example of Iron Age-Pandyas continuity?

In any case, I accept that my sentence could be intrepreted as you did, so I will slightly modify it, so it's clear that the Pandya reference is for a later period. Can you tell me what dates were those of Nedunchezhiyan's rule?

Maju said...

Reading now on the Early Pandyan Kingdom, it seems that our man would be Nedunj Cheliyan I, who ruled from Korkai but later moved the capital to Madurai, after conquering it.

It's not clear when he ruled but the overall reference seems to be that the earliest Pandyan monarchs date from c. 600 BCE, what really overlaps with Iron Age Megalithism.

Continuity, right?

Manjunat said...

I don't have much knowledge about archeology. The merchant guilds (along with other artisan guilds) as far as I know originated in east India (UP, Bihar, Bengal regions). The titles and the names of castes show strong Indo-Aryan roots. Etymology of Pandya itself is disputed and doesn't have known Dravidian root. The earliest mention of Pandyas was in Megasthenes's Indika. But that talk about martiarchal Pandyan kingdom and Tamil kingdoms were never known to be matrilineal/matriarchal.

I am not sure if I can attribute the historical age of that site could be attributed to native development or continuity of Megalithic site. It rather appears to be mixture of native and east Indian society.

Maju said...

The earliest mention of Pandyas was in Megasthenes's Indika. But that talk about martiarchal Pandyan kingdom and Tamil kingdoms were never known to be matrilineal/matriarchal.

Do you mean matrilineal?

In any case, the Pandyan realm seems to be the first known state in the area, at least to some scale. It is posible I guess that they changed from matrilinearity to patrinearity later on. A lot of cultures have done that, sometimes "overnight".

But I can't say more, bcause I lack enough knowledge to judge.

Manjunat said...

Do you mean matrilineal?

You can find Indika here

From the page:
...
Next come the Pandae, the only race in India ruled by women.
...
But those who live near the sea have no kings.. The Pandaean nation is governed by females.
...

It must be noted here that female rulers were found in coastal Karnataka (Tulu speaking region) until very recent times. The old legends talk about Malayalam region ruled by queens. Of course, Tulu and Malayalam are matrilineal regions.

However, never heard of Tamil region ever having matrilineal tradition(except for few castes but not certainly among ruling classes).

Maju said...

Hi, Manju. I really can't judge from my limited knowledge.

Anyhow, you seem to think based only on that reference of the Indika to the "Pandae" that the Pandyas were not Tamil but rather some other ethnicity (Tulu or Malayalam, right?), that the Tamils must have arrived later on or be the product of early Aryanization of Dravidian society, right?

I find this (always in my outmost ignorance) contradictory with what Wikipedia mentions for the Early Pandyan Kingdom. The monarchs mentioned appear to be all them kings (men) and the description of the early Pandyan society is that of a class/caste society, albeit somewhat different from the Indo-Aryan one where women had few rights.

Of course, the Wikipedia article could easily be biased towards some particular interpretation of history (a Tamilist one for instance), so how do you think the reality was? When was, in your opinion, the Tamil nation founded? Were these the Cholas, who ruled the country from a northern origin maybe?

Even if I'm not knowledgeable, I find this to be an interesting issue and I'd really like to know your opinion.

Manjunat said...

I'm not in a position to judge anything here. The earliest reference of Pandya is thro' Sinhala chronicle 'Mahavamsa'. This chronicle itself is very interesting. Try to read about King Vijaya of Sri Lanka on Wikipedia.

I don't think ruling clans of South India were of northern origin. I believe they were all native tribes who were "Aryanized". But "northern origin" is irrelevant term if it's associated with Indo-Aryans who migrated to present day Pakistan region.

If you check Megasthanese's account of Pandya, he mentions about legends of Hercules. Greeks generally identified Krishna with Hercules. In my opinion, that probably says north Indian legends were being adopted southern tribes.

When was, in your opinion, the Tamil nation founded?

That is again an irrelevant question. There were no political entities based on linguistic criteria at any point of time in India. Tamilakam is mostly cultural entity. All the Tamil kingdoms were known with their ruling ethnic tribe's name. People and the land was also identified similarly. Tamils were called Pandis, Choliyas at different point of time.

There could have been classes in south India but no castes as we know today. There could have beeen castes that migrated from north India. But caste formation in south India was a gradual process. Some of the castes were formed as late as 19th century. Well, there are too many books on development of caste society in India without giving any importance to Indo-Aryan migration/invasion. Louis Dumont (Homo Hierarchicus), Susan Bayly ( Caste, Society and Politics in India from the Eighteenth Century to the Modern Age) etc...

Maju said...

I meant "northern" in the context of Southern India: Cholas are said to have originated at the banks of the Kaveri River, in contrast with the Pandyas who are original from near Madurai. I speculate that more Northern populations could have been more influenced by Indo-Aryan culture.

Regarding ethnicities, I associate them basically with language (though other cultural aspects may be involved too). By asking for the origins of "the Tamil nation", I ask for the origins/formation of the Tamil language and cultural identity specially.

You associate Tamils with patriarchy and some other Dravidians with "matriarchy". That's where my question arose.

If you check Megasthanese's account of Pandya, he mentions about legends of Hercules. Greeks generally identified Krishna with Hercules. In my opinion, that probably says north Indian legends were being adopted southern tribes.

I found references to Hercules and Dyonisos. Dyonisos is typically associated with Shiva (the same comparison appears elsewhere in Greek texts) but Krishna is in other cases related with Apollo, not Hercules. It may have been just different opinions on which way should the synchretic comparison be made but maybe "Hercules" refers to some god that later lost relevance, like Indra. Indra is generally compared with Greek Zeus but due to its heroic nature maybe it was easier for Greeks to relate with Herakles, he archetypical Greek hero.

Anyhow, I did not understand that this narration was about the Pandae but just about India in general, what for Greeks meant primarily NW India and Pakistan.

There could have been classes in south India but no castes as we know today.

Have you read the article at Wikipedia? It mentions a number of classes that resemble more to what the Indika text mentions (for NW India, I understand) than to the modern Hindu varnas:

The highest class, among the Tamils, was the Arivar or the sages. They were the ascetics that renounced materialism and mostly lived outside the cities. Next in rank were the Ulavar or the farmers. Following the Ulavar, were the Aayar or shepherds, then Vedduvar or hunters, followed by artisans such as goldsmiths, blacksmiths etc., then Padaiadchier or the armed men, the Valayar or fishermen and finally the Pulayar or the scavengers.[1] The higher classes enjoyed more privileges than the lower classes - for example, when the higher classes passed in the streets, the lower classes made way for them. The Pulayan, for example, bowed in supplication if he met a nobleman.

While the text talks of "classes", they resemble more by description castes, like those of modern Hinduism and those found in medieval Europe for instance. They form clearly a strong hierarchy and, even if there is no explicit mention of marriage not being allowed between them, it seems probable that this was the case.

You certainly don't bow in supplication before an equal, no matter his wealth (class) but you may be ritually required to do it if this inequality means segregated and hierarchically ordered castes. The "classes" anyhow appear very similar to the seven castes mentioned by the Indika in a different context.

In any case, the same article mentions that in "early Pandyan society" there was legal and social inequality between the sexes. Women had no property rights, and in general, were subordinate to men.

This doesn't seem to correspond with your idea of Pandyas being "matriarchal" (as per the Indika, ok, but it may have confused things) as does not either that all known Pandyan kings were apparently men.

Maju said...

Ok, found your reference to Hercules and the Pandaeans:

The Pandaean nation is governed by females, and their first queen is said to have been the daughter of Hercules.

But earlier Herakles is mentioned as dividing India among his many sons and only daughter, this one allegedly being the first queen of the Pandae. It's obviously a myth claiming that all Indian royal dynasties are descended from this Herakles.

I cannot find any similitude with Indra in spite of my earlier speculation, so it must be another god. No idea which one, though.

Manjunat said...

I have noticed the similarity between north Indian society described by Megasthenes and the "Early Pandyan society". Unfortunately, it's tough to verify these things. The concept of sages has a strong Brahmanical connotations too. After all, their lineages identify sages as their ancestors.

In any case, the writers of that age knew Hindu world view(The original nature gods like Indra, Agni were being replaced by the worship of Phallus or Siva and goddesses which are still strong in East and South India). There could be (as far as I know there were) multiple endogamous tribes among each class.

The later caste system could have destroyed tribal endogamous units and made new profession based endogamous units. View India as a land of hundreds of endogamous tribes (like present day Pathans) during that time.

By the way, the positions of soldiers look rather suspicious. In fact, we don't find any caste with that name in Tamil Nadu. So it must be early stages of random identification. Even 'hunters' are a minuscule population in present day Tamil Nadu and believed to have merged with many other professional groups. We know there were realignments of farmers, hunters, soldiers throughout the history. So there wouldn't have been marriages between Pulaiyans(slave farmers) and other classes. But considering the realignment of middle castes it can't be said for middle classes(marriages). And they may be analogous masters-serfs of Medieval Europe.

as per the Indika, ok, but it may have confused things

Maybe. In that case, Megasthanese wasn't talking about Pandyas at all. Also, Tulu and Malayali societies did provide property rights to women (or in fact, property rights were that of women which men folk also enjoyed as long as they were alive) or property was inherited thro' female line.

those of modern Hinduism and those found in medieval Europe for instance.

Classes were ubiquitous but not caste. The caste is sanctioned by religious scriptures.

Maju said...

Also, Tulu and Malayali societies did provide property rights to women (or in fact, property rights were that of women which men folk also enjoyed as long as they were alive) or property was inherited thro' female line.

This looks more typically matrifocal/matrilinear and certainly not "matriarchal" (a much disdained concept these days, though to have never existed anywhere).

Classes were ubiquitous but not caste. The caste is sanctioned by religious scriptures.

That is a prejudice you have. Class is defined only or primarily by wealth and that is what confronted the old and new regimes in the burgueoise revolutions: the old regime was founded on a caste system but the burgueoise class (low caste) had already became almost as powerful as the aristocratic caste and hence they fought each other (or some times they reached agreements) until the caste structure was removed.

Castes can certainly be sanctioned and further legitimated via religious texts or doctrines (in Medieval Europe this was the Augustinian "Civitas Dei" doctrine) but it is not a real requirement. The main atrribute of castes is segregation and specially belonging by birth, and, while its surely not impossible to "cheat" the system one way or another (royal promotion, lineage falsification, etc.) this is quite rare in a solid caste system.

Would the European medieval system have been a class one, affluent burgueoises would have easily become dukes and princes (but in the best case hey could hope to be promoted to gentry by royal decree, not without huge effort), while poor aristocrats (they did exist) would have become peasants (something unthinkable, as you can read in early modern novels, where such characters appear quite often).

But there is absolutely nothing in Judeo-Christian religious scriptures sanctioning them: it was just a traditional system (aristocracy is at least as old as the metal ages) further developed by late Roman civil law and somewhat hybridated then with Germanics' own caste system. The way each society sanctioned (and favored) what is basically a socio-economical developement of the metal ages (wide sense) varied, but castes existed more or less strongly in many many societies through the whole World.

I can only imagine that the old Indian caste system as mentioned in Indika and the references to "early Pandyan society" (whichever they are), was once legitimized by some sort of "mundane theology" or legends, legends that have now been lost (replaced by something else: Manu's code). But even if they were not, that would not deny the caste system because castes are a socio-economical phenomenon (a formalization and rigidization of pre-existent classes, the "fortification" of certain class structure), not just a religious decree.

Manjunat said...

This looks more typically matrifocal/matrilinear and certainly not "matriarchal"
That is not really important point in my discussion. And for that matter I used matriarchal for Megasthenes description of Pandae society and not for Tulu/Malayalam societies. Please read me messages before. Please keep the terms where they belong.

That is a prejudice you have

You don't have any idea about Indian castes system. It's unique because it's religiously sanctioned.

Manjunat said...

I know it's futile but let me try to explain the difference using your own data.

the old regime was founded on a caste system but the burgueoise class (low caste) had already became almost as powerful as the aristocratic caste and hence they fought each other (or some times they reached agreements) until the caste structure was removed.

Revolts against upper classes in Europe had native ideological roots. But consider India's case.

Here the so-called burgueoise class would have been made up of multiple castes (cultivators, merchants, artisans etc...). But they would never come together for a common cause of equality because there is hierarchy which is sanctified by the religion such a way that the higher in the hierarchy would consider it's impure to join hands with lower in the hierarchy even if equal economic status.

Example.
When a lower caste revolted against feudal caste in Kerala, an intermediate caste helped the feudal caste to suppress the lower caste(Chaliya street protest).

First you have to understand the kind of shame/pride associated with these castes distinctions. Rise of any caste in the hierarchy would deprive sense of pride of the caste above while retaining its sense of shame as a caste below.

As I see it, the attribute of class structure(as explained by you) doesn't work in the caste structure.

Maju said...

Agreed that the Indika decription could be called matriarchal, in the sense that monarchs are said to be women. But this is just a reference by someone who had never been in Pandya and Greeks, you know, loved to think that the Amazons (or similar things) existed soemewhere. He tells us nothing about their society specifically and the other references we have of Pandyan monarchs they appear to be men.

Agreed that Hindu castes are special but I can't agree that religious sanction is what defines castes, it just makes them harder to remove because it attaches to them a whole cosmology (or rather part of it). I understand anyhow that many Hindus don't think castes as important to their religion and even reject them as a separate developement. I would rather not get into Hindu theology anyhow.

Europe lacked an intermediate caste: it had basically only two: noblemen and plebe, with a third non-reproducing "caste": the clergy. It was simpler and anyhow there was not such taboo of impurity.

But what about Maoist "brahmins"? Do they reject to shake hands with dalits? I bet they don't as they are materialists and atheists by principle. Nor did Mahatma Gandhi avoid to touch them, rather the opposite. Certainly in Europe too the religious status had to be attacked too in order to change things (think in Robespierre unveiling a statue of "goddess Reason" or anti-religion campaigns in Soviet Russia) but the main difference may be that the revolutionary process is still ongoing in India: hopefully it has not stopped in Europe either but India has "just" become an industrial country, while farming and therefore religion, illiteracy and caste divides are still very important.

There are differences, no doubt, and you do have a point in the Hindu caste system being more rigid and resistent than any other I know of. But my grandfather was born in the early 1900s and he was the first of many many generations of aristocrats (petty aristocrats but anyhow) to marry a plebeian. I mean that caste mentality doesn't change easily but it does eventually. Some reach before, others later.

Another caste system is race divisions in the USA and other countries. It may be not that rigid and, as in India, it has been officially abolished but, some 22 years ago (and probably still today) interracial (inter-caste) couples were still seen with contempt by many.

It lacks (mostly, many racists think that the Bible sanctions their prejudices) the formal religious sacntion but that is mostly because sects and theologians have moved on and decided that segregation is wrong. I understand that in India too many religious scholars think that the caste system is not just wrong but not truly Hindu and that caste barriers are largely diluted in cities anyhow (and most Indians now live in cities, right?).

So it will be overcome, I am positive about it: it is a system belonging to past times and, if Hinduism doesn't supress it, its supression may severely damage Hinduism itself, the same that the class wars damaged Christianism (a conservative force mostly too) in the West.

Manjunat said...

with a third non-reproducing "caste": the clergy.

It stands diagonally opposite to the fundamental caste idea. Hereditary succession.

Anyway, let's be clear about caste in the past and caste in present day India. Present day Indians have too many other philosophical ideas and other social structures to choose from. Individual Indians make the choice depending upon their level rationalism.

India is still 70% rural and 30% urban. Last heard, even in urban Metros three-fourth of youngsters said they would marry within their own caste. Now, actual caste marriages could be much higher.

By the way, purity-pollution aspects of caste except for marital relationships have almost become extinct in possibly major portion of India(now it mostly correlates with social and economic backwardness).

Maju said...

It stands diagonally opposite to the fundamental caste idea. Hereditary succession.

That's why I put the word "caste" in quotation marks. They were not a class either anyhow and the status of the two true castes was reflected inside it, even if in theory it was not.

Anyhow, is not that the same situation as Hindu holy men, the sadhus, who are made of any kind of people?

India is still 70% rural and 30% urban.

You are right. I was being overly "optimistic" about this. It also seems that wide areas of India are still largely illiterate (but with very strong differences through the country).

By the way, purity-pollution aspects of caste except for marital relationships have almost become extinct in possibly major portion of India(now it mostly correlates with social and economic backwardness).

That's what I meant. I really did not expect most Hindu Indians marrying outside their caste - not yet - but the process of formal levelling is happening anyhow. Such processes, specially in absence of major revolutionary processes (that humble the high and give pride to the low), may take generations.